The Women

Yan Lianke

Them (French edition)

Following on from his memoir THREE BROTHERS, with THE WOMEN Yan Lianke turns his attention to the women of his family and his home village. The book has been read as ‘feminist’ in China. However, the author denies this and swears it is just a literary work. Whilst agreeing that it has enabled him to “better understand the turning point that women are experiencing in China today,” he insists that THE WOMEN is “a painting of the laughter and tears of women in China over the last hundred years.”

Sisters, wives, fiancées, aunts and fellow villagers are sketched and sometimes portrayed at length in their daily activities, as they confront the inequality and harshness of life for women in rural China – despite Mao’s famous phrase, “women hold up half the sky” (to which one of Yan Lianke’s pointed digressions is devoted).

Very literary, full of discoveries and sensitivity and honesty, THE WOMEN is a moving tribute to the many women who shaped him as a man and as a writer. As a leading French review has pointed out:

‘At the end, the very beautiful chapter devoted to the writer’s mother is probably the high point ­- a bath scene, with the description of an exhausted body which tells, more than words, the fate of a woman from the Chinese countryside, and the tenderness of her son: everything is there, everything is said andante sostenuto – and it is admirable.’ Le Monde

‘THE WOMEN is a magnificent exposé about famine and hardship of almost unimaginable proportions, an epic about the power of the collective over the individual both in the form of village gossip and party discipline… Yan Lianke’s ability to see the individual in context – family, the collective – where other people are actually more important, more colourful, and more prominent, is something one would like to learn from.’ Svenska Dagbladet

‘Life in Henan province is at the center, full of poverty, work, and warmth. … Yan has, with apparent modesty, managed to write yet another provocative book.’ Aftonbladet

‘The book consists of a string of surprisingly comic and tragic details that together become a pulsating narrative of poor everyday life in China during the 1970s and 1980s.’ Dagens Nyheter


  • INK Taiwan
  • Henan Lit & Art Publishing China
  • Editions Philippe Picquier France
  • Weyler Forlag Sweden

Material: Full Chinese MS and French pdf (146pp)